After cashing out our winnings from Caesars Palace, Mel wanted to take a circuitous route out of there. We walked by Nero’s Steakhouse, which used to be called the Spanish Steps.
He said, “We changed the name back when I still worked here because most people thought that it served Spanish food, instead of knowing that we had some of the most incredible seafood based on a Mediterranean theme of an old Venetian home. In fact, the mosaic tiles on the wall were fired in the same kiln as those that have graced the Hotel Cipriani in Venice for the last three-hundred years.” We both lamented the closing of the Palace Court restaurant and the loss of the glass-enclosed elevator.
With a twinkle in his eye, he said, “I wish I still worked here, if only so I could have grabbed that one and put it into MY house. The original Roman Forum was comparatively quiet, and we were tempted to play, since it was unofficially a completely different place that the Olympic Casino that we had just been in, but hunger overtook our judgment. We walked over to Bellagio, and both agreed that in a twisted and bizarre way, we both missed the old:
“Well here’s another resort that Teamster money built. Say what you will against those boys, but this town would still be small and unmemorable if it wasn’t for their Pension Fund loans. Regular banks wouldn’t lend a nickel in those days because they didn’t think that gaming was a legit enterprise. Then as soon as one respectable guy, like Hughes waltzes into town, all of a sudden everything’s okay and proper. Like Lefty Rosenthal used to say, ‘Vegas is like a morality car-wash, once you get here, all your sins are washed away’. And he was pretty much right, when they first built the Dunes, it lost money and closed after one year. Then in 1957, the new owner hired Major Riddle. Now here’s a guy with a reputation. He didn’t have any experience in the gaming business, in fact, he ran a mob-front trucking outfit in Indiana. They put him in place because he could “solve problems” and “keep everyone in line.”
I had the experience of meeting Riddle under somewhat difficult circumstances. I was down for a business convention way back when. Some of my cohorts were seasoned gamblers, and they put together a string of hot hands one night down in the casino. The next morning, we’re still feeling no pain after a good, long celebration over the big win. We’re walking through the casino and there is a big void where the craps table was the night before. I go to a nearby dealer and ask him where the table is. He said that the Major was so pissed off over the win that he had it hauled out into the back parking lot. Apparently he had threatened to have it chopped to pieces if he had another bad loss from the craps pit. Sure enough, we go out back to the service entrance, and here’s the old guy just swinging and hammering away at the poor defenseless unarmed table with a fire-axe. He’s cursing, swearing, huffing and puffing. It was so funny, it was like a cartoon. We didn’t laugh for fear he’d come after US with the axe.
“Well, what started that whole craps-table smashing thing goes back a ways,” said Mel. “Yah see, on Friday, October 13, 1967, lucky Friday the 13th, this one guy makes fifty straight passes at the tables. The Major peels off about $250,000 from his own kick, cause the cage didn’t have that kind of money in reserve. So the Majors nose is wide open like he got tagged real good, and he’s totally pissed about bleedy his own money out. That was the first table that he smashed, and there were quite a few more after that. Nothin’ spoiled that guy’s day more than a loss in the casino. And before you ask me, YEAH the shooter set the dice and fired them exactly the same way on every roll when he made all those passes,” added Mel.
“There was this other time that we’re sitting in the Top-of-the-Strip Lounge with Jayne Mansfield. Of course that was before she got her head chopped off in her convertible. So any way, we’re sittin’ there, and everybody is drinking these blue martinis that you could get there and also in their gourmet Sultan’s Table room. We laughin’ it up, and I’m telling a few stories and Jayne is laughing so hard that Blue Martini starts coming out of her NOSE, and all over her white dress. It looked like a science-fiction movies’ special-effects. Now THAT was funny! Another time, we’re in the Dome of the Sea restaurant that was out in front of the place, and she wants to learn how to play the harp, because they had a girl in there as part of the entertainment who played a harp for the diners. So good-naturedly, they let Jayne play, and she was doing okay, but then she starts to sing…well that was one beautiful lady and everything, but she couldn’t carry a tune to save her life. We never let her near a microphone again!”
“Just after I was hired on at the Dunes, and we created a show-program for the Sinbad Theater which included two 33-1/3 LPs. We didn’t know what “value-added” meant in those days. We only knew that it was unique, and people came just to get that “free” double-record set of the shows music. It was also a perfect souvenir, and even after the show ended it’s run, we used them as promotional Christmas gifts. Hey, ya know poker great, Johnny Moss? He was our Poker Room manager for a number of years. Then he went strictly professional, and won the World Series of Poker a couple of times.”
I was there on October 20, 1993, when Steve Wynn imploded the casino and north tower. For me it was the end of one era, but I knew it was the beginning of another. Mel said, “One night a bunch of my guys were playing golf on the course out back. They had moved that huge Genie off of the entrance and onto the middle of the golf course. I’m at home celebrating my anniversary with my second wife, and I get a call from my buddy to say that the friggin’ Genie is on fire. I won’t tell you exactly what happened to start the fire, but you can be sure that the “official” explanation was no where near the truth.”
While we discussed the Dunes and the Oasis Casino over lunch in Bellagio at Noodles, various dishes from Japan, China, Thailand, Korea, Hongkong, Vietnam and Malaysia were put in front of us. Mel was doing the ordering, and by the third bowl I was wondering just how many more were coming. With seven empty bowls in front of each of us, I was pretty sure that the noodle tour of the Pacific Rim had been completed, otherwise it was going to require a bigger boat to finish that trip!
The tables at Bellagio produced a modest profit for the both of us. I suggested that we take the monorail down to Monte Carlo. He said that he preferred to walk, besides he wasn’t too keen on playing there after I told him that they weren’t too friendly towards dice-setters. So we headed for:
This place is home to two “tub-style” craps tables. They have two dealers run the game, which can handle a maximum of ten players. However, it’s uncomfortable if there are more than eight players. They use a mini-stick and mini-dice, and you’re not supposed to set the dice. However, depending on the crew and who’s working the pit, and if you’re a generous tipper, the stickman MAY deliver the dice in the requested set to the shooter. I won’t mention any names, but a couple of old-time dealers have made obscene amounts of tokes when the situation was just right. By the way, the tokes go directly into the stickman’s shirt-pocket, just like the old days before toke boxes.
Mel and I talked about the bad reputation that this place has over its’ food. “It always wasn’t that way,” said Mel. “Up to about five years ago, the food was actually pretty decent. They had these meal bargains that were some of the best that this town has ever seen, especially in the last ten years. For three months they had the “Chicken Special”, where you got one-half of a roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, vegetable of the day, bun, butter and a bottomless glass of beer for the grand price of 49 CENTS! Then they had the “Italian Special” where you get a huge plate full of Lasagna, garlic toast, and a bottomless glass of either white, red or rose wine, again for the grand price of just 49 CENTS! We’re not talking about 1960’s prices, we’re talking about 1994 or ’95 when they offered that. Hey, you think I wasn’t arm-wrestling to pick up the tab with a couple of other guests?! To return the favor someplace else would cost many times that, and the quality was equal, but the quantity was always less!
When Mel and I walked up to the tables, we had a carefully crafted plan. We didn’t want to be noticed at all by the Pit, so we only bought in for $80 each. At $100 or higher, the Pit takes notice, so we were careful to avoid that. We also bet the $5 table-minimum on the Pass Line with 5x odds. I placed a corresponding $5 bet for the two dealers and politely asked if I could get the dice with the “sixes up”. “No prob”, came the reply. I Placed the 6 & 8 for $30 each, and after hitting, I didn’t do my usual regression. A couple more paying hits later, I repeated the Point, and replaced the dealers line bet with a fresh one. Both dealers expressed their gratitude, and then echoed it again when I backed their bet with 5x odds, AND Placed piggy-backed bets for them on the 6 & 8 action as well. We hit spanked those puppies about a dozen more times, and the one dealer suggested that we “pocket” some of the $25 chips to thin out our racks a little. I had already subtlety done that, but I didn’t want to make the drop too obvious. The box/dealer said, “No go ahead, the stickman will tell you to cool it if the heat is coming. You just keep on shooting the way you are, and we’ll ALL be happy tonight!”
Mel and I actually stuck around to shoot several more hands. Well actually I shot, and Mel was happy just to bet and collect. When a few people came to the table, I parked a chip on the rail to hold my spot, then took a walk around for a few minutes. Upon returning, it was coming up to my turn again. Once more, the dice we’re landing perfectly to collect on virtually every toss of the dice. We each walked out of their with over $2400 more than we went in with.
We grabbed a cab back to Treasure Island where I picked up my car. I wheeled out onto Las Vegas Boulevard and headed back to the Hilton where I had picked up Mel earlier that morning. As we headed towards the Convention Center, we glanced over at the Desert Inn that had only closed a few days prior. Neither of us really wanted to relive that moment, but leave it to Mel to come up with something that could make me smile about the death of one more of the Queens of the Strip.
He said, “About twenty renovations ago at the DI, they had this Lucky Lady Bar, that had a colored light panel built into each spot on the bar-top. They had a roulette-type wheel that would spin every hour, and different colors would come up. If your light lit up, you’d get all the free drinks for the rest of the shift, plus you got to keep as many silver dollars as your hands could hold after digging into the base of this naked statue that held a pile of those coins. So big hands won a lot, and small hands could drown their sorrow with the free booze.” I said, “I think I like that idea better than playing Tic-Tac-Toe against that rooster from Vegas World!”
Mel said, “Man, that was a great day, we should do it again. I think when I retire, I’m going to follow you around when you’re in town.” “Then I’ll become WELL known to everyone,” I said, and then continued. “Your jackets may be your trademark, but they’ll soon associate my face with the disappearance of their money, especially if I’m with someone as identifiable as you. I think I’ll keep my plain vanilla wrapper thank you very much.” “Okay,” he replied, “How about if we do this one-hand-per-casino thing DOWNTOWN on my next day off?”
The walk is continued here
Good Luck & Good Skill at the Tables…and in Life.
By: The Mad Professor